The Red Convertible

The Red Convertible Symbol Analysis

The Red Convertible Symbol Icon

The red convertible symbolizes Henry and Lyman’s youthful innocence and the freedom that comes with it. When they first see the convertible for sale, they are electrified by it—like their youth, it seems to them “alive” and alluring. They buy it almost without thinking, recklessly spending all their money and leaving barely enough to buy gas to get home. Then, they ride all over North America in it, still carefree and paying little attention to maintaining the car. When they return home, however, the car isn’t in great shape and Henry gets drafted into war—their carefree, youthful behavior, it seems, is catching up to them and coming to an end. While Henry is gone, Lyman fixes the car up and maintains it perfectly (showing his denial about the changes occurring in their lives), but Henry comes back from the war a changed man. He is now uninterested in the car, which shows his distance from the freedom, youth, and innocence it symbolizes. Lyman damages the car in an attempt to get Henry to fix it, thereby giving him a hobby and a purpose. For a while, this seems to work—Henry fixates on repairing the car and he seems in better spirits, and he even invites Lyman on a joy ride to the river once the car is fixed, which hearkens back to their carefree traveling days. However, the innocence and freedom of youth can’t be regained once lost—on that trip, Henry drowns and when Lyman cannot save him, Lyman pushes the car into the river, destroying it in the same way that his own freedom and innocence have been destroyed by his brother’s death.

The Red Convertible Quotes in The Red Convertible

The The Red Convertible quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Red Convertible. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Red Convertible published in 1984.
The Red Convertible Quotes

I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation. And of course it was red, a red Olds. I owned that car along with my brother Henry Junior. We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother Lyman (that's myself), Lyman walks everywhere he goes.

Related Characters: Lyman Lamartine , Henry Lamartine
Related Symbols: The Red Convertible
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
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We went places in that car, me and Henry. We took off driving all one whole summer… We got up there [to Alaska] and never wanted to leave. The sun doesn't truly set there in summer, and the night is more a soft dusk. You might doze off, sometimes, but before you know it you're up again, like an animal in nature. You never feel like you have to sleep hard or put away the world. And things would grow up there.

Related Characters: Lyman Lamartine , Henry Lamartine
Related Symbols: The Red Convertible
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

It was so sunny that day Henry had to squint against the glare. Or maybe the camera Bonita held flashed like a mirror, blinding him, before she snapped the picture. My face is right out in the sun, big and round. But he might have drawn back, because the shadows on his face are deep as holes. There are two shadows curved like little hooks around the ends of his smile, as if to frame it and try to keep it there—that one, first smile that looked like it might have hurt his face.

Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The trip over there was beautiful. When everything starts changing, drying up, clearing off, you feel like your whole life is starting. Henry felt it, too. The top was down and the car hummed like a top. He'd really put it back in shape, even the tape on the seats was very carefully put down and glued back in layers. It's not that he smiled again or even joked, but his face looked to me as if it was clear, more peaceful. It looked as though he wasn't thinking of anything in particular except the bare fields and windbreaks and houses we were passing.

Related Characters: Lyman Lamartine , Henry Lamartine
Related Symbols: The Red Convertible
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

No sound comes from the river after the splash he makes, so I run right over. I look around. It's getting dark. I see he's halfway across the water already, and I know he didn't swim there but the current took him. It's far. I hear his voice, though, very clearly across it.

"My boots are filling," he says.

He says this in a normal voice, like he just noticed and he doesn't know what to think of it. Then he's gone. A branch comes by. Another branch. And I go in…

I walk back to the car, turn on the high beams, and drive it up the bank. I put it in first gear and then I take my foot off the clutch. I get out, close the door, and watch it plow softly into the water.

Related Characters: Henry Lamartine (speaker), Lyman Lamartine
Related Symbols: The Red Convertible
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Red Convertible Symbol Timeline in The Red Convertible

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Red Convertible appears in The Red Convertible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Red Convertible
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
American and American Indian Identity Theme Icon
Lyman recalls that he was the first person to drive a convertible on his reservation, a red Oldsmobile. He and his brother Henry owned it together, until... (full context)
American and American Indian Identity Theme Icon
...own. The café was destroyed in a tornado, but before that happened, he bought the convertible with Henry. (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Henry and Lyman are in Winnipeg when they stumble upon the convertible, which seems almost larger than life, and they decide to buy it. One summer, they... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...period captured by the enemy. Meanwhile, Lyman writes him lots of letters and keeps the convertible in top shape for him. He considers himself lucky that he did not get drafted,... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...he never makes jokes like he did before. He even has no interest in the convertible. Because of this, others mostly leave Henry alone, and he spends long stretches of time... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
Henry has shown no interest in the convertible since he got home from the war, but Lyman decides that the car might bring... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Their sister Bonita makes them pose for a photograph with the car before they go. Lyman recalls the picture, which he kept on the wall for a... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...talking and Henry reveals that he knew what Lyman was doing by intentionally damaging the convertible. He wants Lyman to have the car all to himself, but Lyman refuses, and they... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...the current is strong. It’s getting dark, and Lyman sees that the current has already carried Henry much too far. “My boots are filling,” he says placidly, and then he’s gone.... (full context)